For baseball fans, it’s playoff time. Teams that have spent the last six months positioning themselves for a playoff run now have one or two weeks to see if their strategy works. In playoff games, teams behave differently. They take chances they normally would not during regular season games. That is because there is much more at stake. Two or three losses and your team is out. There is tension and excitement that makes playoff baseball much more exciting to watch.
A similar situation has developed in Washington in the form of the shutdown non-crisis. But unlike baseball, a playoff atmosphere can be manufactured at any time. Republicans saw the problems coming with the implementation of Obamacare and chose (shockingly) to make a stand. First, Ted Cruz’ 21-hour non-filibuster sought to bring Obamacare’s problems to the attention of the public. Secondly, the House’s current refusal to fund the Obamacare law and the ensuing government slowdown (it’s not really a shutdown) has created a crisis atmosphere in Washington.
In playoff baseball, players try to stretch singles into doubles. They attempt more steals. They bunt and attempt to manufacture runs. Most of this strategy is designed to force the other team to respond perfectly to each situation presented to them. If they do, the strategy will not succeed. But if they falter, make a bad throw, fail to hit the cut-off man, or can not field the ball cleanly, the strategy can work. Is there risk involved? Sure. But if executed properly, a team that is weaker on paper can defeat a stronger opponent.
In the political theater that is the shutdown non-crisis, the Democrats are the stronger team. They hold the White House and the Senate. Republicans only the House. Outnumbered 2-1, Republicans have to force their political opponents to make mistakes in order to achieve their objective. It’s a tall order. Democrats own most of the low-information news media outlets. This is why most right-of-center pundits practically begged Republicans to avoid this fight over the continuing resolution. Yet here we are in the thick of it. Time will tell whether this was an actual strategy or a caucus fight that just snowballed out of control. One thing is certain though. Democrats have handled it poorly, as this now infamous clip shows:
When Chris Hayes goes on MSNBC in the evening and practically writes the narrative that the Democrats failed to play the previous day, you know the wheels have come off the bus. But democrats don’t really care. They can afford to fail a few times before a working narrative is set. The media will cover for the Democrats while they sort things out. Republicans don’t have that luxury. They have to be perfect every minute of every day this slowdown continues. The media will not give them any slack.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990’s, it was seen by most of the business press as an act of desperation. The only question at the time was who would purchase Apple and absorb their technology. Jobs knew that every future product launch would have to be perfect. If a product failed to sell, it would just be another signal of Apple’s demise and foment hostile takeover rumors. So he stopped the information leaks to the press, controlled his product launches at carefully crafted press events, and slowly killed the takeover rumors. Nearly every product Apple launched from 1997 forward was a huge success and transformed Apple into the $600/share tech monster that it is today.
Apple exercised great corporate discipline over many years to rebuild itself. Do I think Congressional Republicans have that kind of discipline. No. But each day the Democrats keep screwing up and each day Republicans don’t gives me hope. Pass the popcorn and put on your rally hats!